How'd They do That Spot: Severance Play

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"We do a lot of violence, and most of it's with Cliff Freeman," says Johnnie Semerad, creative director and founder of New York visual effects hot shop Quiet Man. "But this is the most violent thing we've done so far," he adds with pride. It's the new Traktor-directed Mike's Hard Lemonade campaign, from Cliff Freeman & Partners, and it's all about the zany joy of limb loss with a touch of traumatic impalement added for variety (see also p. 38). In one spot, a lumberjack clumsily hacks off his foot with an ax; in another, a construction worker falls off a building and is run through with a rod; in the third, an aquarium employee has his hand snapped off while feeding a killer whale. In all cases, a round of Mike's Hard Lemonade restores the victims to their usual jollity, though they were barely put out in the first place.

How challenging is all this from an effects standpoint? "Five years ago, most of these shots would've seemed like a miracle," says Semerad, but that was a century ago in digital time. "Making stumps out of arms and legs is something we've been able to do for a while and make it look pretty realistic," he explains. "The killer whale was the hardest one. The whale only does so much. We needed one take of the whale coming up, another take of him biting, then a take of the guy with background plates and splashes, then we have to put it all together in Inferno." It's his favorite spot of the three, "because it's like, `Did I just see that? Yeah, I just saw that.' The lumberjack too. The humor just fits my style, I guess."

The other two spots feature more conventional catastrophes. The ankle accident merely required extensive rig removal and greenscreen work, for example. Couldn't all this be done without digital manipulation, like the notorious knight fight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which appears to be the inspiration for the campaign anyway? "Probably, but digital makes it much simpler and neater, since there can't be any blood or gross stuff, like the stump showing," Semerad notes with disappointment. "There can't be any bones poking out the cuff or the sleeve, we had to make sure it was all covered up. It's got to be funny, but not revolting." Semerad is pleased with the shot of the disembodied shoe, though "it's just a shoe, it didn't require any finessing." But the severed foot inside it is clearly implied. "I guess that slipped by the networks," he chuckles.

Here's another low-tech surprise: The impaled worker was indeed done with an old-style prop from the ancient days of analog. Is that a professional letdown? "Nah," Semerad insists. "You want to keep the audience guessing."

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